Monthly Archives: January 2016

Defending Pencil Boxes

            When I was a junior in high school I was accosted by my father for carrying a slide rule in my pocket on my way out the door to school. He insisted I was cheating at math. It took some serious talking to convince him that it was, in fact, a requirement of my Math class, and I was being instructed in its use by the Math teacher. (My father worked at the local General Electric plant, and was in awe of the engineers who could whip out a slide rule and do complicated calculations in what seemed like mere minutes.)
           Similarly, when I spotted my -then- teen children taking calculators to school I immediately questioned their motives and soon learned THEY had been required to bring the devices to school. Of course, I’m not the master of suspicion and intimidation my dad was, so the exchange went a lot smoother and with a lot less pain. Now, of course, kids are sitting at tablets or laptops in most of their classes, and using them with much the same skill as I once joyfully plied my slide rule. (Today’s students have no idea of what that is, and I suppose it’s just as well.)
          Likewise, cursive writing is no longer taught in schools, and spelling (thank God) is no longer even a subject. You can’t use “longhand” on a computer, and “spell check” relieves us of that obligation. It seems only dinosaurs like me and my generation have all but been absorbed into the “techie” age, and I have to say that’s not a BAD thing, just a sad one. You see, there are skills and self-reliant attitudes that are being lost these days, and I fear they’re not going to come back. That’s why, a couple of years ago, I bought each member of my family – wife, kids, grandkids – a pencil box and filled it with the following: Pencils, of course, for doing math the old fashioned way; pens, for SIGNING their names and writing notes and messages they wanted to endure; a nice, new BIG eraser for correcting errors in math and writing and whatever; and even compasses (because I couldn’t even find protractors like the ones once supplied in every pencil box in this country.)
          I wanted to remind them all that if the power ever goes out, you do, actually, know how to do common calculations. You can read and WRITE letters without texts or email services. You can even calculate angles and figure volumes and generally think your way through a challenge without the use of a “device”. We are, or should be, rational human beings with enough intelligence and skill to fend for ourselves.  And a lot of what we need to accomplish that is in an old-time pencil box that you now have to outfit and maintain on your own, because they don’t sell them any more. Put it this way: A man named Sydney J. Harris, a columnist, once made a regular item out of “Things I learned while looking up other things.” It was really a fascinating addition the  newspaper’s usual fair. But in this computerized age, it would be improbable if not impossible. Sad.

vince katarzynski



In defence of tears

“Summary: No discrete lung nodules. No abnormalities.” When I read those words I began to cry. Softly at first, but with increasing intensity, until I decided to stay in my room until I could control the tears and keep them  from my wife. It took a full 20 minutes before I could venture out. In the interim I texted each of our kids with the good news and whispered a couple of heartfelt thanks to my maker. He surely had helped.

It all made me think of where I am in life and how I got here. I met my wife some 38 years ago. She had legs that made me decide immediately that I must dance with this woman, and we’ve been dancing together (figuratively) ever since. She was a widow with five kids, great legs, and an attitude that still surprises me after all this time. We married at Christmas time that year, and I’ve never looked back.

The kids were truly their mother’s children: all with that honest, open attitude of hers. They welcomed me warmly (not usual for kids aged 9 to 16 who find a new guy in the house), and over the years have made feel as much their father as anyone could ever be. They call me “Pop” now, because to THEIR children I’m “Papa”, which seems to give the excuse to address me fondly without actually saying “dad”. That was the honor reserved for their natural father, whom I’d insisted I would not and could not replace when I married their mom. I was simply  called Vince until Pop became handy.

This wonderful family and I struggled through the usual kinds of things that families do, from fights over dishes and other chores to “grounded” for this and here’s a couple of bucks for that. Even when we lost the second oldest boy in a stupid car crash we all held each other and kept each other going. We stayed strong for each other and we all survived it, though I still wonder how.

And now there had been this terror. In the midst of grandkids getting advanced degrees and great grandkids (there are 2) learning to walk and talk and enjoy the world, there was the unspoken demon. To even say the word “cancer” had been unthinkable. Yet the CAT-scan had been ordered because of “multiple nodules” spotted on an earlier x-ray. And the subsequent waiting for this test and rescheduling of that test, and finally having the scan and waiting for results had taken a great deal out of each of us until I read those words: “No discrete lung nodules. No abnormalities”. All except for my wife and that amazing attitude of hers, because she had never even considered “cancer” to be a possibility, even as I and my kids sweated bullets. And it was HER CAT-scan.

And that’s why it took me so long to stop bawling and go tell her how glad I was about the results. God had given her back to me for a while longer.

This is ME we’re talking about

          I’m a complainer. Some, like my wife, think I just complain to hear my own voice, but that’s not true. To be honest, I simply need to say it: to get it out into the world and leave it there and I can walk away. I NEED to say it, like others need to breath or scratch and itch, or blink.  And “it” is only specific things: someone butchering the language, for example, or someone who hasn’t yet figured out why they put those lines in the parking lots. And all I really need to do is explain to the universe at large that that guy is the southwest end of a northeast-bound horse, and I’m done. I forget it. It’s over.
          You see, I’m convinced  that most people don’t see driving or cars as tools: They see them as extensions of themselves. So the guy parked astride one of the white lines probably didn’t do it just to be a jerk. He was: A- in a hurry; B- thinking about his destination and unaware that he parked that way; or C- believed he had a right to do that because he wanted to protect the paint job on his car. But in all three cases, “Hey, this is ME we’re talking about”. “How dare you suggest that I should be courteous to others when they should clearly be courteous to ME, FIRST”  Again: southwest-northeast.
          Now don’t get me wrong: If he hits my car in the process, I’m not going to rant and rave about it. Accidents happen. And if lightning strikes my house, or one of my household (or I myself) becomes ill or has other problems, I don’t throw a fit. I just try to help. It’s the self-serving attitudes that allow one to butcher the English language to prove you’re cool, or try to beat the traffic light, or ignore that line in to grocery store lot that just DEMAND my assurance to the world that here, at this moment, this noxious, unpleasant, self absorbed person of unfortunate parentage and unsatisfactory schooling has insulted us all and must be identified for all to see.
          And that’s it. I’ve gotten it off my chest, and unless in some odd reference to this posting, I have no more to say about it. I don’t go on-and-on about some petty little annoyance. I simply right a wrong and move on.
          Oh! By the way, the real intent of this piece was to introduce myself more clearly to you, and to note that I’m writing it today (January 1, 2016) to get a  good start to 2016. So HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all.
Vince K.